More and more landowners, writes Gwil Jones, are opening their farm gates to a wide range of commercial opportunities either to supplement or replace their income.
Diversification is nothing new and when agricultural prices are at a low, as they currently are, farmers need to fully harness the potential of their assets. The Great British Public now embraces the countryside more keenly than ever before. This unquenchable thirst is constantly being fed with TV and advertising, promoting everything from food to fashion and lifestyle in the great outdoors.
This is no bad thing, indeed quite the opposite, but merely a change in the status quo. The British countryside is no longer the playground solely for those dressed in tweed: a traditional, mixed farm now harvests the sun and the wind for its crop, has industrial lets in stables, weddings in barns and an obstacle race over fields.
When you’re setting up a new enterprise everything that needs doing generally has a number of zeros behind the Pound sign. So, it’s important to stay focussed on your end goal and have a keen sense of knowing who you are appealing to. Often, even with these thoughts etched on the brain, so many make the mistake of thinking their potential customers are just like them: “If we like it, they will too.” Wrong!
Simplicity and quality should be your initial watchwords. Thereafter, you’ll have time to refine the areas you want to concentrate on in the future. Think of your venue as a theatre stage: functional and practical. You can then dress the stage, be it a marquee, barn, woodland or garden, to suit the audience. Flair and imagination brought to bear, with modern touches, can transform the simplest site into a venue in demand.
Rough around the edges
If redeveloping an old building don’t be led by an architect who loves to over spec and wants to design a structure as if it were a show house. This would be crazy. There are also occasions when unnecessary money has been spent on a beautiful, old barn transforming it into something that resembles a bland conference room suite, taking away all its former charm and appeal. This is not always the case, and I am not endorsing the cutting of corners to save money, but often the appeal of a country venue tends to be the slightly ‘rough around the edges’ look.
New wedding and event venues are springing up everywhere offering the exclusivity and bespoke appeal which hotels cannot match. These venues, even at the top end, are also considerably cheaper than private, one-off marquee events, once everything is taken into consideration. Regardless of the type of farm venue you intend on setting up, there is room for many more entrants yet, and all at differing levels of involvement and investment.
The events industry is closely knit and intertwined; it relies heavily on mutual cooperation. So do your research and find like-minded suppliers to build up a network to support your business. They’ll often be as keen to work with you, as you are with them.
- The events industry is about working when your guests want to play, so busy days, evenings and weekends become the norm.
- How close are you to your neighbours? People who live in the countryside fear noise and traffic more than anything, so if you intend to set up a venue you need a plan to deal with this.
- Chimney pots. In order to get a critical mass, you not only need be close to your customers but be close enough to other amenities like hotels, main roads, taxis, suppliers and a labour force.
- Something that sets your venue apart from the rest, regardless of competitive factors. Some venues will be able to draw customers further than others.
- Don’t try and be something you’re not. Play to your strengths and the strengths of your venue.
- Planning permission and highways access. Get professional advice to fully understand the financial and legal implications of what you will need.
- Risk assessments and Health & Safety. This is all very dull, but don’t just push it to one side and ignore it. The countryside, and farms in particular, can be dangerous places and many of your guests may be very unfamiliar with these dangers. Mix this with over-excitement and alcohol and you will soon find that things can quickly get out of control.
- Running a countryside events venue can be a very lucrative business but don’t rest on your laurels. You need to keep investing, improving and evolving to keep the pennies coming in.
- Hospitality and events are not something that is limited to the summer months only, they happen all year round, so make sure you are open to the possibilities.
- There is always so much that can’t be done until the last minute. So if it can go wrong, it inevitably will. Always plan for the worst case scenario so you’ll always be prepared.
About the Author
Gwil Jones is the director of The Venue Group, a leading provider of bespoke event management solutions to unique rural venues and country estates. www.thevenuegroup.co.uk
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